To loosely quote Ayn Rand, the only truly lonely person is the one who believes they have something to offer.
As a kid, I spent a lot of time alone. It was partially out of circumstance, but primarily out of my own volition. I lived on an acreage about 10 miles north of Lincoln starting in third grade and as a result, I had no neighbors, let alone friends, within a reasonable walking distance, but I felt like I got enough social interaction — often more than I preferred — at a school literally in the middle of a cornfield.
Of course, I had to be at school, so its necessity lessened my motivation toward it. I didn’t do poorly in school, but it wasn’t what I wanted to be doing in the first place, let alone with many people I didn’t connect with or didn’t find value in relationships with. So, what did I really want to be doing then?
My house was a haven for all kinds of shenanigans. From about grade six to grade nine, I became obsessed with chemistry. I turned my parent’s downstairs kitchenette into a miniature laboratory, where I spent countless nights slaving over a laminate countertop in order to bring my dreams of homemade thermite or white phosphorus to life.
After that, I dove head first into music. Experimenting with my guitar and my cassette decks became a regular after-school tradition. What is the most efficient workflow? What happens when you run this one drum machine through this one effects unit? The possibilities, just like in chemistry, are practically endless. I have since done my best to turn my current basement into a functional analog recording studio, and it’s constantly evolving.
All this time alone, however, I was not without a considerable level of self-doubt as I refused to find assurance in anyone but my parents. I questioned other’s opinions of me on a regular basis. I was constantly concerned with my acclimation to social environments and my general ability to hold casual conversations with others, despite being involved in a seemingly innumerable amount of extracurricular activities with a wide variety of settings and people.
While wrenchingly frustrating at the time, I have realized that this wasn’t quite a vain concern for my social status, although I probably held popularity more highly in my mind than I should have. Instead, it was a frustration born from my desire to demonstrate my value to people who I didn’t find value in to begin with.
It’s funny; it seems whenever I attempt to articulate my own experience with solitude, as I’m doing right now, it’s hard not to sound like a judgemental, societal pessimist, eager to dismiss anyone I meet as not worth my time. But in all honesty, love isn’t free, and if I don’t love who I’m with or what I’m doing then what’s the point? I like to let someone earn my respect before I devote time to the relationship, as a rule of thumb.
So after some pondering, my internal narrative changed from whether or not I had passion to where I should focus the inherent passion I held. And, as all my years of asociality have demonstrated, I am most productive, inspired and generally happy when I’m alone. Social interaction with people I value turned out to be just the icing on the cake of life.
My loneliness taught so much, not only about fending for myself and finding my own passions but how to maintain a real, fruitful camaraderie with anyone in my life.
Despite the relative exclusivity of my friends, I’m graduating college with a versatile degree and a solid foundation of friends and acquaintances who are likely to be instrumental in my future. If you’re an introvert who holds your alone time sacred, keeping friends comes down to one primary determinant: kindness. You might not have something to say at every chance to speak. You might let other people take control of the conversation just to save yourself a word. As lame as you might feel at times, know that as long as you work to be a careful, genuinely caring person, even a stranger will give you the benefit of the doubt.
The moral of the story here would be that the idea of Karma has some merit. Being good to other people is very seldom not in one’s best interest, so why would anyone cap themselves just to be pejorative to an annoying coworker or feel that fleeting essence of alpha-dog-ness that comes when you ridicule a member of your bar gang.
And the best part is, kindness is a fairly simple metric. It’s easy to tell someone who is purely kind from someone who acts like they have something to gain from you, even by socially tired hermits like myself.
Introversion and subsequent loneliness don’t have to be a curse. No one is forcing friendship on you, and eventually the friendships you value will be the ones you keep. It’s ok to be picky with who you decide to spend time with, but when you finally meet someone with that little spark that lights you up, don’t let fear or anxiety hold you back. As my dad often tells me, “always be fishing.”